I have always thought that distant memories give you a more visceral, longing sentiment. Something of higher value than things that your eyes have just swept by. As your memory gets increasingly dim, the harder you try to envision the remaining traces in your head to regather the time you felt so dear about. Because time can be such a whimsical friend, you often let memories slip by you – sometimes without notice, and sometimes even when you’ve told yourself not to forget about them. The most lasting impressions can disfigure into mere trails of thoughts. Or the most insignificant ones – ones you have never thought your mind would grab hold of – would remain as your pillow-side thoughts every passing night.
I remember Jude. I suppose ‘remember’ is a strong word to use in this case, because all of him I possess this day is an imperfect vessel full of indistinct thoughts and unresolved feelings. Now it’s more of an old reflex, an instinctive response the body harbors. I have known him for at least six years – also because I cannot clearly recall how we met – I am more used to him, or rather, my impression of him sweeping by like a breeze. A vestige from long nights and days of thinking of him. It has been too long since we last spoke, so my thoughts of him are usually void of any sort of feelings. Usually, I would have a distinct opinion towards most people; as for Jude, it is as if I am a disinterested, aloof observer of something. This is also the byproduct of my years of practice of desperately attempting to forget him.
“That’s stupid,” he commented, during one of our heated discussions of whether you can forget something intentionally. I had said that if an occasion leaves you with a certain level of shock, the body would respond to it by removing the recollection from the stream of consciousness.
“You can never forget what you try to forget. The endless acts of forgetting just put emphasis on the memory itself. After all, you would have to recall what the occasion is about to forget it in the first place,” he said.
I remember attempting to argue against it, but somehow it seemed ironically true.
And when I actually had to forget him, I ended up remembering him more. Maybe I wanted to remember him subconsciously, who knows.
Nevertheless, I try to draw his face with the tip of my finger on sleepless nights. I would try to link the speckles of dust garishly floating around the lamplight. I always draw his lips first, because I have always wondered what kind of lips someone who always knew his ways around words would have. The kind of lips the sweetest good-nights came from. The kind that always called my name so endearingly that I would ask him to do so over and over again. And he would. Then I draw his nose, cheeks, and eyes along the wavering orange glow of the lamp. I have the hardest time drawing his eyes. They always gaze over something further, something so distant that I could never follow where he was actually at, or where he wanted to be.
The funny part is that I don’t exactly remember how he looked like. I have built an image of Jude around my own memories of him. The recollections I have are my rough sketches of him. Maybe he does not have a neat pair of lips that spoke with such elegance. Maybe his lips are parched and unrefined. Maybe he never had that smooth, perfect curve on his cheeks that if you run your finger along it, it goes over very smoothly. Or the eyes that had such depth. After all, imagination is stronger than indistinct past memories. The eyes and the lips are what I think he would have, just to justify the memories I have of him. I still lock my eyes into his eyes, the very pair I draw. I intently look into his eyes, not for the smallest creases or the fallen eyelash, but for my own reflection in his eyes, transparent and honest.
“I want to know what you are like,” Jude said out of the blue one day.
“I think six years is pretty much enough to get to know me,” I replied. “You know I secretly like the color orange sometimes. No one knows about that. It’s my guilty pleasure.”
“Someone who would make the effort to observe you just for a day would find that out instantly,” he said.
After a long pause, he spoke. “There are things that you discover only through real human interaction, you know. I want to know what you’re like when you get bored of me talking. Tapping your fingers? Folding the margins of the tissue? I want to know how you laugh. Not just sound-wise, but the gestures you make. I want to follow your gaze and see what kind of things you lay your eyes upon. Things like these.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of you,” I said in defense, a little taken aback by the degree of emotions his statement held. The words came out as a clumped-up choke rather than a neat enunciation.
He laughed. “I’ve been told I’m a bore.”
“But so am I,” I said.
His wish never came true. We never got to meet, and our six years of “getting to know each other” ironically, never came to a resolution. It was not just because of the fact that we are penpals living seven-hour flight distance away from each other. If I tried, I could have always flown over to see him. I would have done that. Because sometimes, even a daunting venture is worth just to see someone you love. It was partly because out of all the days we knew each other, the good days were only a very small portion of it, that it was probably better off for both of us if we did not get to meet. Our days were not always sunny, and most of the times he stayed hidden, somewhere I could not reach.
“I like talking to you. Talking to you makes me comfortable,” he said once. “Actually, it really does. Usually, when I talk to others, I have to think about things that would continue the conversation. And sometimes that’s really hard for me. I don’t have to do that for you. It just comes naturally.”
He stopped. I held my breath too. I listened to the tempos of his breath as I waited for him to resume.
“But I get so mad at you sometimes,” he said.
This time, I paused. Something sank in my heart. I was not disappointed or heartbroken. It came to me more as a confirmation of something I have assumed a long time ago. It was a sort of acknowledgment.
“It’s not your fault. Maybe it’s just me. I just, I just get so frustrated and angry,” his voice got louder. His breath got louder and more rapid momentarily. “Why couldn’t you have just left me alone?”
That was our last conversation. I have not heard back from him since then. He has always yearned to die, so maybe he has achieved his wish. Maybe he was too scared and came back in self-loathe. I can never find out now. Out of those six years, there was never a moment when he was not filled with such sorrow and solitude. There had been times where he felt more like an automaton, repeating old, recorded messages over and over again before even the tip of his lips got rusty that he could not slip out a word anymore. There had also been moments where he was a wild animal, growling at every peripheral patch of light. Other times he had locked himself up in his own bubble that floated aimlessly around the world he felt so bitter about.
Some good days he would share a conversation about his favorite restaurant in the small town he was living in. The rural stretches of asphalt that led up to the only Italian restaurant, the air filled with the smell of grass when the autumn breeze swept by, the one good carbonara he has ever tasted, and the kind owner of the restaurant who always welcomed him and listened to how his day went by. I have never had many chances to have carbonara until then, but listening to his memories of his favorite restaurant made me want to try it. The first carbonara I tasted after years and years was delicious. I always think about the dead shells of cicadas and the sound of the small gold bell that rang when he opened the door.
Other nights he would tell me sad stories about his childhood. He told me about his first and last family trip when days were still bright and he felt more certain of the world. I recall his voice so reminiscent and resigned as he recounted his trip. He remembered every detail of the trip. The sea’s call as he took each step into the shores were so soothing, he laughed under his breath. He watched the sunset spreading across the horizon, and stayed there long after the sun had gone by. After which he returned to the shabby hotel with his family. In a calm voice, Jude spoke about the corniest soap opera on the TV, or how the furniture was oddly placed throughout the room. Things like the color of the drawer. The dusty smell that stole him of his sleep and kept him awake in the night, and the way his brother tossed and turned all night. When the snow globe he bought as a souvenir cracked, he said he ran his finger over the crack repeatedly in the car ride back home, as if that would mend the fissure in the snow globe and his heart.
I thought of this – like a reflex – when I came back from my trip to London. London was one of the greatest places I have been to. Definitely most memorable. I would say I remember moments and moments of it, like the taste of the chocolate chip cookie I bought in Borough Market, or the frozen red tips of my finger as I pressed it around my favorite pen. I remember the busker’s John Denver song, and the intricate gold ring I bought in one of the old markets. I remember the boy with rose-flushed cheeks I met in the museum and the song I listened to on the long bus ride. Moments and moments of it that all came out to be a blur, so surreal that it felt like a dream after I came back. While it came out to be only a chunk of dreamy blur to me, it seemed like Jude was clutching onto the tiniest blur in his memories so desperately, so dearly. I saw him living in the happy days that were long gone by, and that made me sad.
It’s a matter of the difference in our desire to hold onto something. I was always surrounded by things. Littlest things could make me happy. The washed clean smell of morning laundry, dried up lavender bookmarks, and a good hot chocolate could keep me happy for the rest of the week. I had many things to hold, and many things I wanted to hold. So some memories didn’t hold much importance to me. I could easily let something slip through my fingers. I could just find another source of happiness very quickly. That was me. It was my way of keeping myself happy. As for Jude, he had nothing to find solace in. His crumbling surroundings were bleak and grim, such that even residing in that reality would drain him. He needed to clutch onto something brighter, something distant but lighter. He had to hold onto memories like the broken snow globe.
There is a small boundary that separates remembrance and recollection. You remember someone out of your own will. It is a voluntary action, and recollection happens because perhaps, you spot something that reminds you of someone. In contrary to what I have said previously, I remember Jude. I remember him because he is an integral part of my memories. I would gladly do so. And Jude would have recollections of me. If he sees a cup with orange polka-dots, he would recall how I secretly adored the color. Or when he listens to Glenn Miller, he would probably take a while to recall that my favorite Miller piece is Moonlight Serenade. We have always had this demarcation – the distinction between remembrance and recollection – between us. And I’ve loved him so dearly, even with this separation.
However hard I try to draw out my remaining impression of him, I always end up with another blurry picture of the past. The distance the time leaves you with only bestows sleepless nights of longing. The longingness with which you look upon your past makes you uncertain of what actually happened. And this is also my way of telling a story. Our story was composed of a more complex tangle of feelings – marked by many unspoken wishes and frequent departures. Tear-stained pillowcases and solitude – our days were not as good as I had described throughout this memoir. Even Jude himself has defined us as a “love-hate relationship.” Time has never been so generous, and I would not be lying if I said that I am glad to forget some parts of our story. I just had to forget some things about him to remember some parts.
I would be less inclined to define this as sugar-coating. If life is a book with pages full of endless chapters, omitting less favorable content would be simply another way of storytelling. I would prefer to leave our story as that. A story. A short memoir. A sweet remembrance.